Type: Day trip to Snowbank Lake Portage into Disappointment Lake 140 rods on 08/30/2017.
Equipment: Rental Kevlar canoe from Spirt of the Wilderness outfitter, bent shaft paddles, camera, day packs, lunch, first aid kits, rain gear, water shoes and nylon rope.
This day trip was a recon of the Snowbank Lake paddle and portage into Disappointment Lake that we planned on entering the following week on 4 Sept 2017 for our week in the BWCAW. I suggested this trip to my partner as I knew that he had planned on traveling across the open water of Snowbank Lake. I have several years of kayak paddling experience and open water to me always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I have always felt that if you can see the shoreline and can swim to it if over turned then that is safer than the unpredictable middle of the lake. But, his GPS placed us right in the middle of open water and I now wanted to test this route.
We started early from the Fall Lake Campground with the thinking that the earlier we get on the water the calmer it would be. We arrived at the Snowbank Lake #27 entry point with another car loaded with a canoe hot on our rear bumper. Then as we pulled into the landing there was another truck with two canoes and tons of fishing gear unloading.
We quickly got our equipment together and loaded the canoe and set off before anyone else at the entry point. But, we didn’t have a full load of gear to double check like the others at the entry point.
The sun was shining and the wind was light and we seemed to have a easy paddle ahead of us.
We had been at this entry point in April and it was covered in ice and the expanse of the ice towards our projected end point had made my Dutch partner immediately purchase a Garmin GPS. Now the water still looked expansive but the blue waves filled us with excitement as we started to paddle across the water heading Northeast out of the entry point. As we approached the point off Burnt Island (half way between Harri Island and Burnt Island in the middle of the lake) I recall starting to feel a bit nervous and voiced my opinion to my partner.
Heck, only 2 ½ foot waves, what sort of paddler was I?
“Just keep paddling!” was the answer to my nervous chatter.
“That portage has to be over there.” I pointed in a direct point to where I really wanted to be as the waves splashed against the front of the canoe and the spray hit my face.
The light canoe was bouncing around on the water in a controlled rhythm but still made me very uneasy.
“According to the GPS it is straight ahead another 900 meters.” Was the reply to my suggesting heading towards shore.
“Darn, GPS! How can that possibly be right?” I thought without voicing my opinion.
As we slowly made our way against the waves towards the projected GPS portage point we were passed by a motorized boat with two young men heading in the direction of the portage. We were now sitting in a bay trying to locate on the map and via the now acting crazy GPS and having a discussion of which way the portage was.
My gut was to follow the boat, his was to follow the now GPS that was having emotional trauma of some sort. Finally, the GPS got over it’s issue and we were pointed in the same direction where the boat had now disappeared behind an inlet point that lead into another bay.
I had seen other trip reports that have mentioned that paddlers have a hard time finding this portage. I now understand why. It seems like it should be closer. The Parent Lake portage is also on a small bay and many end up there when they are shooting for the Disappointment Lake Portage. We also over a week later met two guys who had over shot the Parent Lake portage and to their dismay now had a longer portage to walk.
Once we entered the bay my nerves calmed down as we paddled a mirror like water up to the portage. What a difference from the open water!
We pulled up next to the motorized boat and saw that it belonged to the Forest Service and the two young men had quickly disappeared up the portage trail.
We landed the canoe and stashed our gear along the trail and hiked the 140 rod trail to Disappointment Lake. This portage has a bit of everything rocks, overhanging tree limbs, mud, and elevation. We could really see the effects of the year prior blowdown as many of the trees on the ridge line were snapped off and littered the forest floor.
The Disappointment Lake potage landing was flat and open and we noted that it should be an easy entry into Disappointment Lake. We sat and had a snack and explored the Snowbank Hiking trail that runs next to this portage.
We then hiked back to tour gear and saw that in that hour we had spent on the trail the flat water on the bay on the Snowbank Lake side now was choppy.
“Oh, boy! Lucky us.” I thought as I now tried to verbally change our return course to a more shoreline rather than open water of the big lake.
As we left the bay my partner was easier to convince as the waves now had white caps and were easily 3 ½ foot in height.
We kept skirting the shore line but were fighting the now strong side winds and waves coming from the North and hitting the side of the canoe. At this point I looked back to see my partner and he was a sitting a full body above me controlling the canoe like an expert.
What came to my mind was “Don’t look back and you won’t see how bad it is. Just keep paddling!”
As we rounded another point I suggested we veer off into a sheltered bay to get out of the harassing winds and waves and to catch our breath for a moment. We were now close to the bay that leads into the Parent Lake portage. I asked what was his plan and he wanted to head straight for Burnt Island across the open water again.
I flatly said “NO!”
He agreed to take the longer approach to the entry point by going around Burnt Island making sure I knew that there was no escape from open water. We would have to cross it once we left the backside of Burnt Island. I knew that too but I was hoping that maybe the easier paddle would give us a bit a break before tackling the open water again and I also hoped that maybe the winds would change direction.
We pulled along Burnt Island and had a nice rest and drank water and ate snack bars we saw a kingfisher and other paddlers off in the distance along the far shore line of Snowbank Lake’s west facing shoreline close to Parent Lake. They looked to have an easy paddle and I wondered if any were the ones we had seen that morning at the landing.
As we started again and rounded the southern most tip of Burnt Island and out of the straight with the mainland we were once again hit with the full force of the wind and waves. Not as big of waves as what we had just experienced on the open water of the lake but furious enough to make sure we kept our focus to paddling. Now with the entry point in view, it seemed like it never got closer!
I started singing old Army cadences to keep my mind off how far it seemed we still had to paddle. These always motivated me on long road marches in the military and now helped pass the long moments that it took to get the bouncing canoe safety back to the dock.
When we pulled along side the dock of the entry point we both looked at each other and high fived as we both knew we had made it as a team.
“I would not have wanted any other partner out there today! Thanks for getting us back and for listening to me when I suggested taking another way back.” I told him.
He looked at me and said “That was a bit much. Maybe we need to rethink our plan for next week.” That said it all.
As we unloaded the canoe and repacked it on the car we ran several scenarios of how we could change our plan for the next week. One thing was for sure we were glad we had paddled it prior to our trip to know what we would encounter!
Next stop was our outfitter Spirit of the Wilderness to discuss our options for our upcoming trip.
After a very understanding and insightful discussion with the wonderful team at Spirit of the Wilderness we scheduled a tow across Snowbank Lake the following week to the Disappointment Lake portage. We also decided to take the tow on our return. Snowbank Lake won! We were ok with that having had our full experience on what Snowbank Lake can throw at us and that was on one of her mild of days.